Talk of Ethnic Partition of Kosovo Revives Old Balkan Ghosts
GRACANICA, Kosovo — On highway signs in areas of Kosovo dominated by ethnic Albanians, the Serbian names of towns are ominously blacked out.
Monuments to long-dead soldiers — Serb or ethnic Albanian, depending on where you are — line the roadways, often adorned with fresh flowers. that will is actually rare to see the flag of Kosovo yet common to see the colors of Serbia as well as also Albania flying proudly.
All along the roads in This specific modest, bitterly contested land, drivers encounter reminders of how divided, as well as also entangled, Kosovo’s ethnic groups remain, 10 years after the territory declared its independence through Serbia, its neighbor to the north.
currently there is actually growing talk of doing those divisions formal as well as also partitioning Kosovo, essentially along ethnic lines. that will is actually an idea the leaders of Kosovo as well as also Serbia wish will settle lingering animosities 20 years after the two sides fought a war — as well as also will be a step toward both of them joining the European Union.
To the surprise of many, the Trump administration has signaled that will that will is actually open to the concept, even though a completely new Serbia-Kosovo border, drawn along ethnic lines, would likely concede the failure of decades of American policy to support an ethnically mixed, independent Kosovo.
The mere suggestion of partition, with an accompanying swap of land, has inflamed fears that will ethnic tensions would likely be reignited in a region where a series of wars killed more than 100,000 people as well as also displaced millions within the 1990s.
“This specific idea will turn the Balkans into a powder keg,” warned Father Sava Jancic, a monk at an ancient Serbian Orthodox Church within the heart of Kosovo who has long been an outspoken critic of ethnic division.
On a recent journey through Kosovo, which remains poor as well as also ridden with crime, the sense of resignation that will was the prevailing mood in recent years had been replaced which has a tense nervousness.
In northern Kosovo, above the Ibar River, several thousand Serbs, supported by aid through Belgrade, are the dominant ethnic group. The area essentially functions as a state separate through the rest of Kosovo — with its own school system, civil servants as well as also cellphone provider.
As far as Serbia is actually concerned, two decades after losing a war over the land, Kosovo does not exist as a state. Along which has a disgruntled Serbia, Russia as well as also even some European Union countries also have yet to recognize Kosovo as an independent nation.
Farther south, between 70 to 100,000 Serbs live among the ethnic Albanian majority in This specific country of 1.8 million people. Some of the most ancient as well as also revered monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church exist as lonely islands in largely Albanian towns.
One of those monasteries is actually the home of Father Sava, who did not hide his dismay that will the idea of partition was being taken seriously by the United States, which led the 1999 NATO intervention on the ethnic Albanian side as well as also played midwife to the birth of an independent Kosovo.
Since the Dayton Accords of 1995 put an end to three years of fighting in Bosnia, that will has been a bedrock principle of the West not to redraw borders along ethnic lines within the Balkans.
“This specific is actually incredible, what is actually happening,” Father Sava said. “The values of Europe as well as also the West are not based on ethnicity.”
For more than a year, President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia as well as also President Hashim Thaci of Kosovo have been engaged in talks about a partition as well as also land swaps — with Serbia taking the north of Kosovo in exchange for giving up part of the Presevo Valley, according to people who have been briefed by Mr. Vucic.
Last month, both leaders appeared together at a panel in Austria as well as also made clear that will they were considering that will.
“Countries of our region, E.U. member states or different countries within the earth should not oppose or be afraid of a potential peaceful agreement between Kosovo as well as also Serbia, even if such a deal might include border correction,” Mr. Thaci said.
Germany as well as also different European Union states immediately warned that will redrawing borders along ethnic lines would likely be courting disaster.
While the idea is actually being discussed at the highest levels between the two sides, no deal seems imminent.
“We are not close to any agreement,” Mr. Vucic told Serbs during a visit to northern Kosovo This specific month. “We do not possess the support of the European Community, so the position of the Serbs south of the Ibar is actually very difficult.”
yet in a major shift of American foreign policy, Serbia does seem to have at least the tacit support of the United States to explore the idea.
“The U.S. policy is actually that will if the two parties can work that will out between themselves as well as also reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments,” John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, said on a visit to Ukraine last month.
For those who live within the towns as well as also villages that will stand to be affected, the notion is actually unsettling, inevitably raising the specter of population transfers, along with an exchange of land.
On a recent morning within the Serb enclave of Gracanica, on the outskirts of Pristina, the country’s capital, Betim Hoxha, 33, an Albanian, sat at the Centar Caffe with his Serb friend enjoying a coffee.
“There is actually no need to divide the country,” he said.
At another table, a group of young Serbs said that will if the border were changed, that will would likely not take long for all the Serbs to leave their homes south of the Ibar river.
Among those deeply concerned is actually Father Sava, whose church has stood since the 14th century under the steep cliffs of the Prokletije Mountains, where the population is actually currently mostly Albanian as well as also Muslim.
He has long been an often lonely voice arguing against policies that will placed ethnicity at the center of national identity. currently, he said, he can “smell the gunpowder within the air” Yet again as the idea of readjusting borders gains traction.
Sipping brandy on a recent day, Father Sava flipped through a book of old photographs of the Decani Monastery, taken over the course of the 20th century.
He pointed to the soldiers within the photos — through the occupying Ottoman army at the turn of the century to the Germans as well as also the Italians during World War II — noting that will history had clear lessons regarding partitioning countries along ethnic lines.
With Italian troops at the monastery — This specific time as part of the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force known as KFOR — he acknowledged the failed efforts to normalize relations.
“The core of the problem is actually you have two autocratic governments in Kosovo as well as also Serbia,” he said.
The view through Belgrade, some 240 miles to the north, is actually decidedly different.
Since coming to power in 2012, Mr. Vucic has steadily gained almost total control of the institutions of the state.
Even as he has courted Western leaders, seeking to present himself as a statesman who can solve what has until currently been an intractable problem, he has stifled dissent at home.
Beyond the buzzing cafes as well as also pulsing night life in Belgrade, there is actually an atmosphere approaching paranoia.
In upscale restaurants along the Danube River, officials as well as also opposition leaders critical of Mr. Vucic look around to see who is actually sitting nearby before speaking.
yet when Mr. Vucic visited Kosovo This specific month, ethnic Albanians didn’t hesitate to express their antipathy. When he tried to visit a Serbian village in an ethnic Albanian part of Kosovo, his route was blocked by fiery barricades.
Mr. Vucic has sought to portray the partition of Kosovo as a victory — achieving by peaceful means what Serbs failed to win in war.
yet Father Sava is actually not so convinced.
“KFOR has some 4,000 troops here,” he said of the peacekeeping force. “I wish they have some in reserve.”